Committee meeting night at radio station WHYR (96.9 FM), and Racheal Hebert nudges the thermostat down from tropical to semi-tropical.
“We try to save money on electricity,” she said, “but it’s hot, don’t you think?”
The 70 or so volunteers who run the station and provide programming are a collection of computer and radio tekkies and people who want more diversity in music and opinion than what they hear on other Baton Rouge radio stations, said David Brown. Brown is a 41-year-old lawyer and one of the founders of the Baton Rouge Progressive Network in 1999.
“It was an effort to bridge the gap between progressive students and progressive organizations in the Baton Rouge community,” Brown said.
Brown, who prefers “community radio” to “progressive radio,” said the founders of the Baton Rouge Progressive Network were “students at LSU who identified with politics that were left of center. We weren’t Democrats. We were mostly independents.”
Brown, who’s done fundraising for the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 2007.
“I raised $75,000 for that campaign, and that’s about this station’s annual budget,” he said.
Danny Watts sells commercial real estate when he’s not volunteering at WHYR.
“I’ve long been frustrated with what I hear on local radio,” Watts said. “We’ve gotten rid of diversity. The only music you hear on corporate radio is formulaic.
“When I was younger, a band could get a record made at a local studio and get it aired,” he said. “In the late ’60s and ’70s, that’s how people became notable.”
The station’s mix of opinion, news and music is diverse. The signal, however, may be hard to pick up because WHYR is a low-power station.
“If you’re within three or four miles of the Dean Tower building on Florida Boulevard, you should get us OK,” said Alexander Perlis, 42, who with a doctorate in mathematics is part of the station’s technical team.
Even within the optimum radius of the antenna in the 5700 block of Florida Boulevard, the strength of WHYR’s signal varies.
“Reception on Government Street is better than where I am in the Garden District,” Perlis said.
Freshly painted inside, the station is in a nondescript building in the 1600 block of Main Street. The bicycles of some volunteers are chained up outside or leaned against a wall inside the building.
“We’re targeting smaller businesses” for advertising and donations, said Christine Kalaugh, 30, volunteer development director for the station and a marketing and office manager for a computer software company. Kalaugh has a late night show Thursday and Sunday, a mix of show tunes and commentary called “Anything Goes.”
“We’re about issue advocacy,” said Hebert, whose paid job is outreach director at the Rape Crisis Center.
“It’s not ‘Left’ or ‘Right’. You don’t have to be a Republican or a Democrat to support bike lanes,” she said.
WHYR’s website relates the history of the station’s license obtained in 2000, “hijacked” electronically by another broadcasting company and the four years it took for the Federal Communications Commission to rule that WHYR was the license’s legal holder. The “hijacker” was fined $20,000, according to the website.
Two years ago, the station lost half its board of directors when the economy tanked and board members moved away to find work, Brown said.
WHYR’s brain trust hopes to be streaming programming via the Internet next year, but Perlis said there are advantages to an FM station.
It’s cheaper to license music over FM than streaming, though equipment costs for streaming are considerably lower than an over-the-air station, Perlis said.
An FM station reaches people in their cars, he said. “Most people still have FM receivers in their cars and homes and not Internet streamer receivers.”
One day, Perlis and WHYR’s technical crew hope to install solar panels on the roof and in the parking lot.
“Maybe, we’ll be the first community radio station in the country that’s solar powered,” he said.